UK competition watchdog wins appeal – investigation into Apple will go on

iPhone maker tried to legally kill mobile browser, gaming probe by CMA

The UK Court of Appeal has upheld the Competition and Markets Authority's (CMA's) decision to launch a probe into mobile browsers and cloud gaming, quashing an appeal by Apple to kill the process.

The judgment overturns the Competition Appeal Tribunal's (CAT's) March 2023 decision, which upheld an appeal by Apple and put the CMA's investigation on hold.

That said, the investigation remains on pause pending what happens next regarding any further appeals.

The CMA was unsurprisingly pleased about the decision, as having an investigation derailed on appeal by one of its subjects could have a chilling effect on the authority's ability to inspect other potential breaches of the law.

The investigation was launched over a year ago and focused on the control exerted by Apple and Google over the mobile ecosystem. It followed a year-long study of the mobile software and hardware market which concluded that Apple and Google have "a stranglehold over operating systems, app stores and web browsers on mobile devices."

A formal investigation was inevitable, and the possible remedies doubtless caused alarm within Apple.

Apple's effort to appeal the decision to begin a formal investigation came earlier this year following complaints from the company that permitting, as an example, something other than WebKit to be used for browsing could result in iOS being a clone of Android.

Apple's appeal regarding the lawfulness of the decision was heard on March 10, 2023, and by March 31, 2023, the CAT sided with the Mac maker. The CMA had previously opted not to open an investigation during a market study, so it does not have the power to do so now.

The CMA appealed, which resulted in a unanimous judgment by Lord Justice Green, Lord Justice Arnold, and the Chancellor of the High Court that the CAT had erred. And so, pending permissions to appeal, the investigation could well be back on.

Sarah Cardell, Chief Executive of the CMA, praised the ruling and said: "We launched this investigation over a year ago in order to make sure that UK consumers get the best services and apps on their mobile phones, and that UK developers can invest in innovative new apps.

"We stand ready to reopen it when the legal process is complete." ®

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